What Causes Milky White Cloudy Aquarium Water?

Milky-white, cloudy aquarium water is often just temporary. Poorly rinsed gravel in a new aquarium can cause white cloudiness. Restarting the filters after a shutdown can cause debris and tiny air bubbles to create a white haze. Adding supplements such as bacteria, pH adjusters, or calcium can also create a temporary milky white haze in the water.

All of these sources of white cloudiness are usually just temporary, lasting only a few hours to a few days.

If the cloudiness persists, it is likely caused by bacteria growing at rates that turn the aquarium water milky white. This kind of fast bacteria growth is usually the result of excessive organic waste within the fish tank.

Causes for milky-white aquarium water:

  • The aquarium is new and bacteria are settling. These nitrifying bacteria are needed as they make the water safe for fish by converting highly toxic ammonia to the less toxic nitrate (see ‘The Nitrogen Cycle‘ for more info). During the initial stages of a new aquarium setup bacteria and waste levels will not be balanced, often resulting in milky white cloudy aquarium water.
  • The bacteria colony has been disturbed by environmental changes i.e pH or temperature fluctuations or by anti-bacterial medication. Re-establishing of the colonies can cause the water to turn white.
  • Larger additions of fish or livestock can cause bacterial colonies to multiply every 20 minutes in an effort to convert the additional organic waste being produced. The re-balancing of the biological balance will require some time. Again the result can be milky white cloudiness.
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With growing bacteria in the aquarium, oxygen can be depleted. To solve the problem, correct any of the above mentioned causes. Most common are the addition of livestock which causes dangerous spikes on organic waste.

Algone will clear and prevent cloudy water by removing organic and inorganic waste. Algone will also minimize ammonia and nitrite spikes and lessen their highly toxic effect on fish and other livestock.

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